reality vs. freedom and hope, dr. william petit

How does one wrap one’s brain around the horrific murder of a mom and two, untainted, beautiful, young daughters, one 17 and the other 11? Where do you begin to unravel the tightly wound “spool” that commingled the thread of 6 lives? How did they become entwined? Was it perchance, or was it fate? Where was God when this crime against humanity, against Him, occurred?

Apart from hearing of the Petit murders sensationally broadcast all over TV when they happened in 2007, I didn’t care to delve deeper into the crimes. Certain acts, like these, register too close to home to want to acknowledge them head on. It’s easier to turn away, so that your brain doesn’t absorb all the evil details, so that your imagination doesn’t prohibit you from living without fear.

 The Petit family may have lived a privileged life by virtue of Bill’s being a physician. Maybe that sealed their fate that day. But when one of the co-conspirators, Joshua Komisarjevsky, randomly selected Jennifer Petit and her daughter Michaela in a local supermarket as possible victims, he didn’t know that they were of above average means. Not until he and his partner, Steven Hayes, were well on their way to committing the heinous crime, did they establish how much money, $15,000, they could abscond. So the Petits were stand-ins for any number of American families. The configuration of victims and dollar amount might have differed, but the crime would have played out somewhere, according to the whims of the 2 men who decided to play God.

Dr. William Petit spoke with Oprah, allowing us insight into a victim’s agonizing recovery. Looking at him, only a “shell” remained. He has reconciled himself to living, deciding that suicide would remove any possibility that he could rejoin his loved ones in the after-life. Slumped on the formal sofa, eyes squinting from behind eye glasses, Bill’s voice barely resonated. Oprah seemed to infuse life into him with her gentle probing. Perhaps the interview was cathartic to the doctor’s healing process. It’s obvious he’s in need of a spiritual transfusion.

Having lost his family and his home, which the criminals burned to destroy the evidence, Petit has lost the essence of his identity. He was Jennifer’s husband, and father to Hayley and Michaela. Without them, it’s difficult to heed well-meaning advice from those who tell him to “live in the moment.” His past gone, and his dreams of the future destroyed, he feels disconnected from the present. Upon leaving the cemetery with his sister one day, he asked her “Who am I? Whose clothes are these?” No longer the same person, Bill is unconvinced that he will find happiness, or love once again. Because he suffers post traumatic stress, he gave up his medical practice, something he says Jennifer would want him to resume. He claims to have “good” days, and “bad” days. His sister is saddened on the days when her brother is unable to get out of bed, or when he shuts himself in a room, away from life.

“What is it called when you lose a child?” Petit asks Oprah. He explains that when a husband loses his wife, he’s called a widower; when a wife loses her husband, she’s a widow. The talk show hostess suggests that it’s unnatural for a child to die before its parent, so there is no word to describe his position after the loss. Petit agrees. When asked if he can forgive those who took the lives of his loved ones, Bill first lists crimes which could be forgiven, a car accident, a theft, verbal diatribes. But, he says, “it’s inappropriate to forgive the essence of evil.”

Talk of his daughters momentarily lights up Bill Petit’s eyes which twinkle, a smile creeping across his face. He had a special relationship with the eldest, Hayley, whom he nicknamed “KK Rosebud.” Her favorite saying had been “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Smart and athletic, Hayley was bound for Dartmouth where she would continue to participate in sports as she had in high school. Had she known first love? According to her father, Hayley was in love with someone a year younger in school, for whom she would interrupt her studies to shoot hoops. Petit wished his daughter had experienced true love, before her life was snuffed out.

Michaela, the youngest, liked gardening, but loved cooking more. She cooked the family’s last meal together. Petit remembered it as being a very good meal.

Jennifer, Petit’s wife and partner in managing their lives, was a nurse and surrogate mom to the students in the boarding school where she worked. Amazingly, she also suffered with multiple-sclerosis, though she never complained about it, according to those who knew Jennifer. Daughter Hayley had started a foundation to support MS research in the hopes of saving her mom from the disease. After their deaths, Precious Petits continued the cause. Bill Petit sees the foundation’s purpose as three-fold. First, to fund educational programs, such as those in the sciences, especially to benefit young women; second, to fund MS research; and third, to help victims of violent crime.

Helping others has eased Petit’s heartache, as has knowing that the world is filled with many good people, like those who have contributed to the foundation. He knows too that Hayley and Michaela would want him to be happy. God isn’t to blame, instead they’re at a standoff, says Bill, a Christian. “He has nothing to do with what happens on earth.” Petit’s probably right.

Seems to me we’ve been given all we need to live our lives, including making our own decisions, correctly or incorrectly. There are cultures which see God manipulating their lives; that’s not our culture. Americans believe in freedom, for everyone. We also believe in hope, that we will live our lives without violence. But we know that reality is ultimately, an uncertainty. We can’t control what lies beyond our reach. So we enjoy our freedom, and hope, in silence, that our lives will be harmonious. That was Bill Petit’s expectation of his family’s life in suburban Connecticut.

But what reality subtracts from our lives, hope and freedom restores. Life is change, in small ways, as well as sizeable ones. These “detours” are the sum total of who we are, at the end of our lives. Bill Petit has just taken a detour on his journey through life, and he’s decided to go the distance. Somehow we all dig deep for the courage to go forward. What’s the alternative? Quitting? I think we’re too curious a species, not to want to know what might be just around the corner, or behind door #2, or awaiting us with the dawn of a new day. Who knows? The grandest of all gifts might still be waiting on the horizon.

Reality is, what is. Freedom and hope are what can be.

for Bill Petit as he discovers “what can be,” huge hugs…hugmamma.

 

“big aunty” levitates, “trick-or-treat?”

As Halloween’s ghostly hour draws near, prepare yourself for some true-to-life, Hawaiian storytelling. Granted, it’s from accumulated memories, some mine, some my mom’s, and some from my older siblings. A very superstitious people, belief in the supernatural is inherent in our culture. While native Hawaiians today may not speak of the religion of our ancestors, most, including myself, won’t dispute what we were told. I’m certain it’s the same with descendants of other native people, whose beliefs were so closely intertwined with nature.

When I was a pre-teen, I met “big-aunty” for the first time. I’d heard tales about her, so I imagined she’d look and act like a mean, ugly old woman, a hag, a witch. I dreaded having to look at her, scared to death that she’d cast her malevolent eye upon me. I didn’t want to touch any part of her, not even shake her hand. I was baptized a Catholic, but as a frightened kid, I wasn’t sure my religion was going to protect me from a relative imbued with supernatural powers. In truth, I don’t think we children even spoke of “big aunty,” fearful that even our words would draw her attention, and bad luck would befall us.

With great anticipation, and some anxiety, I looked forward to finally meeting our family “Kahuna,” the witch doctor. At a cousin’s high school graduation reception at his parent’s home, my mom introduced me to “big aunty.” If my memory serves me right, my mom’s attitude seemed reverential, as if deferring to someone of higher standing. 

The eyes that greeted mine reminded me of the sea as it washes up onto black sand beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii. While her stare seemed able to penetrate right through me, I felt as though I were gazing into eyes that were dull, dead. I think she was in her 80’s at the time. But I was captivated by my “big aunty’s” small stature, and soft, gentle countenance, framed by thinning, white hair, cut short. By comparison, her younger sister, my mom, was broader, towering over her older sibling by several inches. At that moment, I feared my mom more than my aunt. Strange, I thought, how different the real person, from the one I’d imagined all those years.

Caught up in the celebration, and wanting to hang out with my boy cousins, Lincoln and Martin, whom I rarely ever saw, I didn’t engage in much conversation with “big aunty.” She, of course, spent most of her time mingling with the other adults. From time to time, I would seek her out, just to be near her. Her charisma was evident, even when she was still. In her presence, I felt no evil, only goodness. But I knew from my mom that “kahunas” possessed both; they could cast good spells, and bad ones. They could also remove spells cast by other “kahunas.”

An older brother and sister were favorites of  “big aunty,” from what I’ve been told. Because there were so many of us, she would have them spend the summers with her in Kahakuloa on Maui. While tourists are able to visit that coastal village today, roads were almost nonexistent in the old days. Of packed dirt, they were difficult to travel, especially when heavy rains eroded the soil, leaving behind deep ruts. Electricity did not exist, so nights were lit by kerosene lamps. I can remember only a couple of occasions when I visited the home built by “big aunty’s” oldest son. Being the youngest in my family, I always went with my mom. Thank God! Nights in that house by the beach, scared the living day lights out of me!

There were no screens on the windows, so I’d lay awake watching the flimsy, homemade, cotton, print curtains gently swaying in the breeze. Humid, the still air would make falling asleep difficult, especially with one whose imagination was as active as mine. I’m sure I lay there bug-eyed, anticipating what might happen at any moment.  Listening to the smooth pebbles that blanketed the nearby shore, tumbling over one another as the waves washed over them, added to my insomnia. On one such night as I’ve described, something did happen.

I was but a child, not allowed, and probably not inclined, to witness as much as the adults. But I still remember the overwhelming sense that things were not right, not good, not holy. We were awaken by “big aunty’s” children, whom we kids called aunty and uncle because they were near my mom’s age, even though they were her nephew and niece-in-law. I’m not positive, but I think my two siblings directly above me in age, were with my mom and me.

As the kerosene lamp cast eerie shadows in the darkness, I could hear the adults speaking in hushed, frantic whispers. Beads of sweat appeared upon my mom’s brow; fear showing in her eyes. Uncle left the room, as mom and aunty continued talking in barely audible voices. “Big aunty” was mentioned throughout the conversation. It seemed something was happening that involved her. I think we kids were told to go back to sleep, when they left the bedroom. Easier said than done.

Other than seeing the adults’ reaction, the only picture framed in my memory is the one I have looking out the window at a shack set back towards the edge of the property, which belonged to “big aunty.” I don’t think she lived there, but she would ensconce herself in the shack for days at a time. On this particular night, I could see images walking back and forth inside the shack. For some reason, the light emanating from within was bright, not like the dimly lit rooms in the main house. I don’t know who the figures were. I don’t think they included my mom, aunt and uncle. It seems to me they were watching from elsewhere in the house, that they were not with “big aunty.” My sense was they were staying clear of what was occurring in the shack. The only other thing I remember before finally succumbing to sleep, is hearing wails coming from the shack, ungodly cries. Now, in the comfort of older age and the safety of my home, I can wish I’d been a “fly on the wall” of the shack. Back then I wished we would have gotten the h— out of there.

The next morning at the breakfast table, the adults were still speaking in quiet voices. From what they said, I gathered “big aunty” was exhausted, worn out from the previous evenings occurrences. I don’t remember if we saw her before leaving Kahakuloa later that day. In fact, we may have driven off after breakfast, my mom not wanting to remain any longer than necessary.

Whether I overheard or was told, it seems a woman had visited “big aunty” in the middle of the night. Looking to enlist her help, the woman asked that a curse be placed upon her husband, or the woman with whom he was having an affair. Evidently “big aunty” consented, and what took place involved her levitating off the ground.

From what I understand, “big aunty” derived her powers from the devil. They were “held” within a “special, blue rock” secreted away in a cave in the side of the mountain, overlooking her shack. There was one particular story which my child’s imagination could vividly picture, when it was told to me.

During my childhood, tsunamis seemed commonplace. As my older sister, beloved by “big aunty” told the story, the sea had rolled back toward the horizon, exposing the ocean floor, a normal phenomenon with tidal waves. When the waters thundered back towards the shoreline, they split in time to spare a cow tied to a palm tree in front of my uncle’s home and “big aunty’s” shack. The waters circumvented the buildings as they continued thrashing forward, wreaking havoc everywherelse. I would liked to have been standing alongside my relatives as they witnessed the extraordinary event, from high atop the mountain.

Before “big aunty” died, she attempted to pass her powers along to her beloved nephew, my older brother. My older sister, of whom I’ve spoken, had called my mom from Honolulu, where she and my brother lived in neighboring apartments. He was sick with cold sweats and fever. At night when the moon was full, he claimed to see a spirit enter through an open window, coming to rest on top of his chest. He felt its full weight as it tried to squeeze the life out of him. I think this happened more than once. With the break of dawn, the apparition disappeared. When my mom heard this, she called “big aunty’s” family right away. From them she learned that her sister was very sick. Phoning my sister with the news, she was ordered not to let my brother return to Maui.

My mom felt that “big aunty” wanted my brother by her side before she died, that she wanted to tell him where to look for the “special” rock, wanting him to carry on as “kahuna.” A devout Catholic after converting to my father’s religion, my mom had no desire to have dealings with the devil, or have any of her children involved either. When my brother did not fly home to Maui, I think “big aunty” got better, and so did my brother. I’m not certain when she died, but she did so without passing her powers onto anyone, that I know. Unless she found someonelse, the rock remains hidden in the cave to this day.

I’m as dedicated to my Catholic beliefs, as my mom was when she lived. But like her, I’m a native very respectful of my Hawaiian heritage. As I get older, my roots seem even more deeply embedded in the soil of my culture. When I visit sacred grounds or spend the night lodged near sea cliffs, the hairs on my neck stand up, and I sense, and feel things that others don’t, not even my husband or daughter.  It’s as though spirits of my ancestors know I feel their presence, that I’m sensitive, a potential “medium.” It may be my imagination playing tricks upon me, but my family history makes me feel otherwise.

“Big aunty” wasn’t the only purveyor of curses; my mom would herself seek the help of “others” when she felt someone had put a spell on her. I’m not sure if they were “kahunas,” but they had influence over my mom for sure. I recall that she would refer to those she saw as “holy” people who would “lay their hands upon her,” blessing her, removing any evil.

There were times when my mom would drive to a lady’s home in Iao Valley, after picking me up from school. She’d disappear into the house for hours, while I waited in the car doing my homework, eventually curling up to take a nap. When my mom returned, she’d either recovered from whatever ailed her, or murmured worriedly that it would take time for things to sort themselves out. I never asked what she meant; I don’t think I really wanted to know. Taught by priests and nuns, I couldn’t reconcile my mom’s superstitious practices with my Catholic school upbringing. But the passing of years has a way of altering one’s perspective.

Maturity, motherhood, and a lifetime of experiences changed my perception of what was, and what is. I can accept, in fact cherish, being a native Hawaiian, and all that encompasses. Yet I can still worship God who, in His generosity, created all of us to live our best lives with what He has given us, including nature, its inhabitants and their habitats. God did not tell us how to live, just that we live. He gave us “free will;” and he will determine if we did the best we could.

proud of my heritage, including “big aunty”…hugmamma.

the internet, friend or foe?

Among other books of lighter fare, I’m beginning to read “What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains – The Shallows” by Nicholas Carr. On the inside jacket Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe, challenges, “Nicholas Carr has written an important and timely book. See if you can stay off the Web long enough to read it!” I have to admit now that blogging has become a “part-time job,” I may find it difficult to finish the 276 pages of technical information. I’m hoping it reads like a bio, the central character being the internet user, me and you. As with other revolutionary inventions of the industrial age, like TV, I will probably rationalize using the “beast” that threatens to take control of my life.

 But if it’s already been unleashed, like Pandora’s Box, can the internet be returned from whence it came? Probably not. But can this Frankenstein be controlled? Or is the monster free to do evil, along with the good it was intended for? Do inventors ever look past the perceived  immediate need, to what injurious consequences might be wrought upon humankind?

Again on the inside jacket of Carr’s book the question is posed “Is Google making us stupid?”  It’s followed by this paragraph “When Nicholas Carr posed that question, in a celebrated Atlantic cover story, he tapped into a well of anxiety about how the Internet is changing us. He also crystallized one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the Net’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?”

I have taken to blogging because of my passion for writing. I’ve tried, albeit half-heartedly, to get published in non-mainstream print media, as well as online, to no avail. Rightly or wrongly, my desire to have my voice “heard” motivated me to blog. Judging from my oft lengthy “dissertations,” you can see that my attention to detail involves more than superficial thinking. And so it begins, … my attempt to rationalize using the internet.

You, dear reader, have been with me since the start of my internet journey so, in a way, you are complicit in my “crime,” i.e. my use of the “beast.” What say you in our defense? It’s use for all the small things that give quality to our lives must count for something?! I’m certain you’ll agree that searching for medical answers, support comfort when a child dies, discounted products in the current economy, are viable reasons to keep the internet going. Or am I again trying to rationalize too much? But what else can we do?

Your opinions on the subject are appreciated. The internet has impacted our lives beyond imagination. But did we sacrifice too much in our rush to deify it? Your thoughts?

are we beyond deep thinking?…hugmamma.